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IEEE Celebrates Engineering Pioneers and Emerging Technologies

Vint Cerf discusses the challenges the Internet faces at the annual summit

5 min read
two people sitting in chairs on stage in front of a projected screen, a podium off to the side and a crowd of people in the foreground

Vint Cerf [right] and technology journalist Katie Hafner kicking off the IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit with a “fireside chat.” Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor.

Robb Cohen Photography & Video

IEEE’s Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit and Honors Ceremony showcases emerging technologies and celebrates engineering pioneers who laid the groundwork for many of today’s electronic devices. I attended this year’s events, held on 4 and 5 May in Atlanta. Here are highlights of the sessions, which are available on IEEE.tv .

The summit kicked off on 4 May at the Georgia Aquarium with a reception and panel discussion on climate change and sustainability, moderated by Saifur Rahman , IEEE president and CEO. The panel featured Chris Coco , IEEE Fellow Alberto Moreira , and IEEE Member Jairo Garcia . Coco is senior director for aquatic sustainability at the aquarium. Moreira is director of the German Aerospace Center Microwaves and Radar Institute in Oberpfaffenhofen, Bavaria. Garcia is CEO of Urban Climate Nexus in Atlanta. UCN assists U.S. cities in creating and executing climate action and resilience plans.

The panelists focused on how the climate crisis is affecting the ocean and ways technology is helping to track environmental changes.

Coco said one of the biggest challenges facilities such as his are facing is finding enough food for their animals. Because sea levels and temperatures are rising, more than 80 percent of marine life is migrating toward the Earth’s poles and away from warmer water, he said. With fish and other species moving to new habitats, ocean predators that rely on them for food are following them. This migration is making it more difficult to find food for aquarium fish, Coco said. He added that technology on buoys is monitoring the water’s quality, and temperature, and levels.

Moreira, recipient of this year’s IEEE Dennis J. Picard Medal for Radar Technologies and Applications , developed a space-based synthetic aperture radar system that can monitor the Earth’s health. The system, consisting of two orbiting satellites, generates 3D maps of the planet’s surface with 2-meter accuracy and lets researchers track sea levels and deforestation. Policymakers can use the data, Moreira said, to mitigate the impact or adapt to the changes.

a group of people standing on stage with medals around their necks and a person holding a framed image of a portrait of a person Those who developed technologies that changed people’s lives were recognized at the 2023 Honor Ceremony in Atlanta. Robb Cohen Photography & Video

Bridging the digital divide, ethics in AI, and the role of robotics

The IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit got underway on 5 May at the Hilton Atlanta , featuring panel discussions with several of this year’s award recipients about concerns related to information and communication technology (ICT), career advice, and artificial intelligence.

The event kicked off with a “fireside chat” between Vint Cerf and Katie Hafner , a technology journalist. Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor . He is being recognized for helping to create “the Internet architecture and providing sustained leadership in its phenomenal growth in becoming society’s critical infrastructure.”

Reflecting on his career, Cerf said “the most magical thing that came out of the Internet is the collection of people that came together to design, build, and get the Internet to work.”

The IEEE Life Fellow also spoke about the biggest challenges society faces today with ICT, including the digital divide and people using the Internet maliciously.

“I don’t want anyone to be denied access to the Internet, whether it’s because they don’t have physical access or can’t afford the service,” Cerf said. “We’re seeing a rapid increase in access recently, and I’m sure before the end of this decade anyone who wants access will have it.”

But, he added, “People are doing harmful things on the Internet to other people, such as ransomware, malware, and disinformation. I’m not surprised this is happening. It’s human frailty being replicated in the online environment. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it.”

During the Innovators Showcase session, panelists Luc Van den hove , IEEE Life Fellow Melba M. Crawford , and IEEE Fellow James Truchard offered advice on how to lead a successful company or research lab. They agreed that it’s important to bring together people from multiple disciplines and to ensure the market is ready for the product in development.

As for moving up the career ladder, Truchard said people should not exclude the role of luck.

“Engineering changes the way the world works.”

“Nothing beats dumb luck,” he said, laughing. He is a former president and CEO of National Instruments , an engineering-solutions company he helped found in Austin, Texas. He is the recipient of the IEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal .

With the launch of ChatGPT , generative AI has become a hot topic among technologists. The “Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT” panel focused on the ethics of generative AI and how educators can adapt the tools in classrooms. The panelists—IEEE Senior Member Carlotta Berry , IEEE Fellow Lydia E. Kavraki , and IEEE Life Fellow Rodney Brooks —also touched on what applications robots could benefit in the future. The three have robotics backgrounds.

They agreed that when an image or text was created using generative AI, that fact needs to be made clear, especially on social media platforms.

One way to accomplish that, Berry said, is to implement policies that require documentation. Berry, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology , in Terre Haute, Ind., emphasized how gender and racial biases remain problems with AI.

Because schools won’t be able to stop students from using tools such as ChatGPT , she said, educators need to teach them how to analyze data and how to tell whether a source is valid. Berry is the recipient of the IEEE Undergraduate Teaching Award .

Brooks, an MIT robotics professor and cofounder of iRobot , said robots can help mitigate the effects of climate change and could help in caring for the elderly.

“We aren’t going to have enough people to look after them,” he said, “and it’s going to be a real problem fairly soon. We need to find a way to help the aging population maintain independence and dignity.” Brooks is the recipient of the IEEE Founders Medal .

AI and robots can be used to monitor the health of the Earth, remove pollutants from water and soil, and better understand viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19, Kavraki said. The IEEE Fellow, a computer science professor at Rice University , in Houston, is the recipient of the IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal .

Pioneers of the QR code, the cochlear implant, and the Internet

The evening’s Honor Ceremony recognized those who developed technologies that changed people’s lives, including the QR code , cochlear implants, and the Internet.

The IEEE Corporate Innovation Award went to Japanese automotive manufacturer Denso , located in Aichi, for “the innovation of QR (Quick Response) code and their widespread use across the globe.” The company’s CEO, Koji Arima , accepted the award. In his speech, the IEEE member said Denso is “committed to developing technology that makes people happy.”

About 466 million people have hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization . To help those who are hearing impaired, in the 1970s husband and wife Erwin and Ingeborg Hochmair developed the multichannel cochlear implant. For their invention, the duo are the recipients of the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal .

“We hope to continue IEEE’s mission of developing technology for the benefit of humanity,” Ingeborg, an IEEE senior member, said in her acceptance speech.

The ceremony ended with the presentation of the IEEE Medal of Honor to Cerf, who received a standing ovation.

“Engineering changes the way the world works,” he said. He ended with a promise: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

You can watch the IEEE Awards Ceremony on IEEE.tv .

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